Atletico Madrid star Antoine Greizmann is hopeful his goal against Milan will kick-start his second coming in the Spanish capital after making Champions League history on Tuesday.

Griezmann scored his first goal for Atletico since returning from Barcelona on deadline day as the LaLiga champions claimed a last-gasp 2-1 win over 10-man Milan.

Atletico trailed 1-0 at half-time following Rafael Leao's opener but the visitors eventually capitalised on their numerical advantage after Milan's Franck Kessie received a second yellow card on the half-hour mark at San Siro.

Griezmann fuelled Atletico's comeback on matchday two, coming off the bench and equalising in the 84th minute before Luis Suarez converted a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

Already Atletico's all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League (22), Griezmann became the club's top scorer in away games after netting his sixth in the competition.

"I hope to get to my best level as quickly as possible. [There've been] a lot of changes," Griezmann told Movistar post-game.

"It [the transfer] was done on the last day and it's different tactics, a different dressing room, another way of playing. In the end it's a lot of changes.

"Everything is different. I have to get used to it as quickly as possible because the coach and my team-mates need me. Nights like this are going to help me to get better.

 "[Head coach Diego Simeone] improved me, he got me to my best level. I want to pay him back and the club, the fans, my team-mates. I'm very proud to be here. I think the fans, the people, want to see me like this like tonight.

"I want to bring them happiness and they'll be going to bed happy tonight. My only objective coming back here is to make them happy."

This was Atletico's first away win against Italian opponents since they beat Milan in the Champions League in February 2014 (1-0), having been winless in four such games entering Tuesday's contest (D2 L2).

Excluding extra time, Suarez's penalty at 96:21 was the latest game-winning goal in the Champions League since the start of the 2003-04 season (as far back as Opta have exact goal times).

A penalty deep into second-half stoppage time from Luis Suarez gave Atletico Madrid a dramatic 2-1 Champions League win over Milan at San Siro.

Antoine Griezmann scored his first goal since his return to the club to level the scores in the 84th minute after Rafael Leao had deservedly put the hosts in front.

Franck Kessie received a second yellow card after only 30 minutes, but Stefano Pioli's men remained impressively resolute until Griezmann's impact off the bench.

Suarez then converted from the spot in style in the seventh minute of added time after Pierre Kalulu was penalised for handball, the decision upheld after a VAR check.

 

 

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone absolved his misfiring attackers of any blame following Saturday's shock LaLiga defeat to Deportivo Alaves. 

Victor Laguardia scored the only goal four minutes in at Estadio de Mendizorroza to inflict a first defeat of the season on Atleti in all competitions. 

Atleti had just one shot on target – substitute Angel Correa forcing Fernando Pacheco into a fine save – as Simeone's side missed out on the chance to overtake leaders Real Madrid. 

The Spanish champions have now failed to find the net in three of their last four matches, during which time they have won only once in all competitions. 

Despite playing a full part against Alaves, who were previously without a point this term, Luis Suarez and recent signing Antoine Griezmann failed to complete a single pass between each other. 

Griezmann has yet to so much as register a shot on target in his last seven LaLiga outings for Atleti and Barcelona combined, his longest such run in the competition. 

Rather than criticise the likes of Suarez, Griezmann and Correa, Atleti boss Simeone instead insisted it was down to him to find a way to break down a solid Alaves team. 

"The responsibility is mine for not having found options to overcome their defence," he said at his post-match news conference. 

"When opposition teams defend well, it is difficult to find those solutions. 

"It's also difficult when a team like Alaves close you down. We didn't have the speed or ability to hurt them. They deserved the win because they scored and knew how to defend." 

 

Laguardia's early goal came from a set-piece situation, the centre-back getting away from Stefan Savic and heading in Ruben Duarte's corner. 

Half of the previous 10 goals conceded by Atletico in the league have now come via headers, excluding own goals, and Simeone accepted his side must improve in that area. 

"I don't think the defence is to blame for the defeat because the goal came from a set-piece," he said.  

"But if there's a weakness at the back, or when defending set-pieces, then it is clear we will have to study that, work on it and try to correct it. 

"We have to keep improving. We had several phases of patient play today and I believe in these players." 

Atleti's fixtures do not get any easier as they travel to Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday, then host Barcelona in the league four days later. 

Reflecting on a bad run of form heading into that huge double-header, Simeone added: "We always say there are bad moments during a season and this may be one of them. 

"We have a good squad, a balanced squad, and we will analyse what is going wrong and try to find solutions." 

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone says the side are different to the one when Antoine Griezmann previously left and has called for patience with the French forward.

Griezmann was replaced in the 67th minute with Atletico trailing 1-0 against Getafe on Tuesday, before Luis Suarez netted twice to complete a fine comeback.

The France international was making his fourth appearance for Atletico since returning from Barcelona on deadline day, having left for the Blaugrana in 2019. Griezmann is yet to score for Atleti in his second stint at the club.

"It is normal. He was very enthusiastic to return," Simeone told reporters after the game.

"He is in the process of adapting to this Atletico, which is not the same as the one he left but I have no doubts that it will be what we expect. We are fortunate to have him.

"Atletico generated other things last season… now we understand that with the players we have these systems can also enter.

"The team has more associative play. We are on a path for everyone to adapt, not only Griezmann, but also Rodrigo [De Paul]. Today he did very well. He came on to give us more stability."

Atletico's comeback was aided by Carles Alena's 74th-minute sending off, dismissed for a second yellow card upon consultation with the VAR.

Suarez equalised in the 78th minute from Hermoso's ball into the box, before the Uruguayan headed a 90th-minute winner from Sime Vrsaljko's hopeful cross.

The brace ended Suarez's slow start to the campaign, having only netted once in Atletico's five games prior to the Getafe clash.

"Anyone would have removed Suarez and Suarez scored goals," Simeone said.

“We chatted at half-time and then, even aside from the goals, we saw another team that played with more offensive forcefulness. We have to continue managing that and wait for our most important players to hit their best form."

The result lifts Atletico above Real Madrid into top spot with 14 points from six games, although Los Blancos have a game in hand against Real Mallorca on Wednesday. Simeone conceded his side are yet to find their best form.

"We're at the start of the season," Simeone said. "There are many situations that the team needs to overcome, the team hasn't been as we would like them to be. The game was against a difficult opponent, who aren't going to lose all season and are dangerous."

Luis Suarez led Atletico Madrid to another stunning turnaround on the road in LaLiga as they won 2-1 again at Getafe on Tuesday.

Champions Atleti had scored a 99th-minute winner in their previous away match at Espanyol having trailed at half-time and required a repeat against their latest hosts.

Stefan Mitrovic's fortuitous first-half header ended Getafe's long drought in this fixture going back to 2011 and kept them in front until a foolish red card for Carles Alena.

Suarez capitalised in typically clinical fashion, scoring twice in the closing stages to continue this remarkable trend of late heroics.

The Uruguay forward had been involved in Atleti's best chance of the opening period when they looked certain to take the lead after his volley was parried only as far as Angel Correa, but Juan Iglesias stretched to block just as the winger appeared to have a simple finish.

Instead, Getafe were in front on the stroke of the interval, keeping an attack alive when Jan Oblak failed to claim a high ball, before Mitrovic's header bounced off the post, against the goalkeeper's right hand and in.

Suarez deserved better when a looping header on 68 minutes hit the crossbar after beating David Soria, as pressure had built on the home goal throughout the second half.

It only ramped up further when Alena, already booked, was dismissed following a VAR review for an ugly stamp on the back of Matheus Cunha's calf.

Suarez soon rifled past Soria and, after Oblak had to be alert to a close-range Enes Unal attempt, the Atleti number seven was there again with a header as the clock turned 90.

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone has backed star forward pair Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann after their slow starts to the new LaLiga season.

The Spanish champions drew 0-0 with Athletic Bilbao in LaLiga on Saturday, days after another scoreless draw against FC Porto in the Champions League.

Suarez has netted only once in six appearances this term for Atleti, while Griezmann is yet to score in three games since his deadline day move from Barcelona.

"I have full confidence in all my players. I am aware that Luis was the last one to join the team alongside [Angel] Correa, [Kieran] Trippier and [Ramon] Lodi," Simeone said.

"They are the last ones who joined us in the pre-season. Then, in the international break, when he was getting fully fit, he had to stop following some physical issues.

"Now it is normal that it is taking some time for him to get fit but he eventually will, as he is a very important player for us."

On Griezmann, Simeone added: "I have full confidence in Antoine. He is a very important player for our team and all I had to tell him about is what I saw from his performances and which aspects I want him to improve on, and I have already told him this."

Atletico's chances of beating Bilbao on Saturday were not helped by Joao Felix's sending off, with the Portuguese forward dismissed after a second bookable offence for dissent.

In the wake of the game, Simeone downplayed Joao Felix's actions but he added on Monday that the side need to do better, having received 10 yellow cards in five games for complaining to referees.

"No, we must improve on that aspect, you just mentioned," he said. "I have no doubts we will do that.

"We really respect the Referee's Committee and yes, sometimes you can talk with them [in the games], but we are aiming to reduce those numbers because they are not good from us."

Atletico will take on Getafe away from home in LaLiga on Tuesday.

Barcelona and Bayern Munich will lock horns on Tuesday in a tantalising Champions League group game at Camp Nou.

It will be the first meeting between these sides since last August in Lisbon, when they served up a 10-goal contest that will live long in the memory – although that's something Barca fans must wish were not so. 

Bayern were 8-2 winners in that quarter-final, utterly dismantling a Barca side who looked increasingly lost at sea with every goal that went in. It was a match with seismic repercussions, too: while the Bundesliga giants went on to win the treble, Barca sacked head coach Quique Setien, Lionel Messi asked to leave and the end of Josep Maria Bartomeu's presidency was hurried along.

It was also a statistical outlier in terms of more than a mere (massively) one-sided scoreline...

31 minutes of infamy

It was 1-1 after just seven minutes, a David Alaba own goal cancelling out Thomas Muller's opener, but that was about as close as the contest ever got.

Ivan Perisic, Serge Gnabry and Muller again scored before the break. It was the first time a team had conceded four goals in the first half of a Champions League knockout match for five years, and the fact all four of Bayern's first goals came inside 31 minutes was a record in the competition.

Luis Suarez got a goal back, but the game quickly descended into farce for Barca, with Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho – on loan from the Catalans – adding to the scoresheet. It meant Bayern became the first team to score eight times in a knockout game in the modern competition, as Barca conceded eight goals for the first time since an 8-0 Copa del Rey loss to Sevilla in 1946.

Expect the unexpected

Barca faced 26 shots in total, the most they have ever faced in a Champions League match along with a game against Bayer Leverkusen in December 2015, when they had already won their group. Their expected goals against figure of 5.72 was by far the highest they have posted in a game in this competition, the nearest being 3.44 against Borussia Dortmund in the group stages. Perhaps that was a warning...

It was certainly a game to forget for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in Barca's goal. He had never before conceded more than four in a Champions League match for the Catalans, saving just 38 per cent of Bayern's attempts. By contrast, he saved all but one of the 26 shots Leverkusen had in that game six years ago.

Big hero six

Of course, it was an occasion to savour for Bayern and their forwards. Muller's double took him to six goals in five games against Barca, more than any other player has managed in the Champions League (Andriy Shevchenko scored five against them). It also took the Germany international to 23 career goals in the knockout phase, a tally at the time bettered only by Messi (47) and Cristiano Ronaldo (67).

Lewandowski's goal took him to 50 in the competition for Bayern in just 60 matches. Ronaldo is the only player to have achieved the milestone in fewer games for a single side, having done so in 50 appearances for Madrid. Lewandowski also became the first Bayern player to score in eight consecutive games in the tournament, and the fifth overall.

Nelson's solemn

Even Coutinho enjoyed himself against the club where he has barely made an impact since his mega-money move from Liverpool. He has only ever scored more in a single Champions League game once – a hat-trick for Liverpool against Spartak Moscow in 2017 – and he had only managed four goals in his previous 20 appearances in the competition.

For Barca, the game descended into disjointed chaos after that end-to-end opening. Suarez ended up touching the ball in his own box as often as he did in Bayern's (three times), while Nelson Semedo endured a torrid outing a right-back, giving up possession 10 times and being dribbled past on three occasions. On average, he completed fewer than three passes for every one instance he lost the ball.

As for Messi, who probably thought this would be his last Champions League game for his boyhood club, he managed just 59 touches of the ball, his lowest figure in a game he started since the 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in February 2017. In the end, Bayern scored more goals than Barca managed shots (seven) in the contest.

Antoine Griezmann will return for Atletico Madrid against Espanyol but head coach Diego Simeone insisted his focus is on the team dynamic and ensuring his talented attacking options click, rather than individuals.

The France forward made a remarkable move back from Barcelona, initially joining the reigning LaLiga champions on loan with either club holding the option to extend for a further year.

Griezmann scored 133 goals across 257 games in his first spell before that ultimately ill-fated €120million move to the Catalan giants in 2019, and Simeone revealed his new loanee is relishing a homecoming.

"I found [Antoine] Griezmann eager to return to Atletico Madrid, very enthusiastic about the situation of returning to the team," Simeone told reporters on Saturday.

However, the 51-year-old head coach wanted to avoid focusing on individuals as Atletico look to end a three-game winless away run at Espanyol in LaLiga.

 

Luis Suarez, who has been involved in 15 goals in 11 top-flight appearances against Sunday's opponents, could link up with his former Barca colleague Griezmann again, though the France star will face a fight for a place in the side given Atletico now boast a wealth of attacking talent among their ranks.

Angel Correa has thrived as a support striker, scoring three times in the first two LaLiga games, as Atletico opened with back-to-back wins for the fourth time in the Simeone era.

Versatile attacker Matheus Cunha then arrived from Hertha Berlin for a reported €26m fee late in the transfer window.

The Brazil forward created 54 chances – ranking him sixth among forwards in Germany – last season, while only five forwards across the top five European leagues completed more dribbles than Cunha's 123 since his arrival in Berlin back in January 2020.

Yannick Carrasco was the only Atletico player to complete 100 dribbles in that time and the Belgian winger – often used as a wing-back last term – led club charts for chances created (47) in LaLiga in 2020-21.

Add the likes of Joao Felix, Thomas Lemar, Marcos Llorente and Rodrigo De Paul to the equation and Simeone has a wealth of creative talents to call on. Now he can look to Griezmann as well.

Although his Barcelona spell may not have lived up to expectations, he still netted 20 times across 51 appearances in all competitions last season, providing 12 assists and creating 67 chances for Ronald Koeman's side. That was two more than he managed in 2017-18, arguably the finest individual campaign of Griezmann's career.

But Simeone is not kidding himself. While he has great talent at his disposal, he needs them to click.

"Internal competition has grown and that leads us to compete better," Simeone continued.

"At first it is easy to speak from the names. I believe in men and in how a team is executed. We are absolutely always looking for a team.

"Names don't team up, men do. We will go in that search of that commitment we have towards the club, always looking for the best."

Luis Suarez will not feature for Uruguay in September's World Cup qualifiers after suffering a knee injury against Villarreal on Sunday.

Suarez started for the first time of the new season for Atletico Madrid and equalised for Diego Simeone's men to record his eighth goal involvement in 13 games against Villarreal.

However, the Atletico forward was forced off 14 minutes later after appearing to have discomfort in his left knee.

Following scans in Spain, Atletico have found a moderate swelling in Suarez's knee and informed Uruguay that the 34-year-old will not be available for the World Cup qualifiers against Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The former Barcelona forward is expected to undergo further treatment throughout the week, though it remains unclear whether he will be fit enough to feature against Espanyol on September 12.

Fortunately for the reigning LaLiga champions, they acquired Matheus Cunha in late August and Angel Correa is in fine form, scoring three in his first three games of 2021-22.

Uruguay, though, have not been so lucky. Suarez's injury further compounds Oscar Tabarez's problems as he is left without two strikers for the qualifiers, Edinson Cavani his other absentee.

Manchester United striker Cavani's absence was confirmed on Monday, too, as Uruguay announced he would not be travelling to South America amid issues over quarantining on his return to the United Kingdom.

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone declined to rule out Saul Niguez leaving the LaLiga champions before the transfer window closes on Tuesday.

Saul, who was a key part of Atletico's LaLiga-winning side last season, has been heavily linked with Champions League holders Chelsea and Premier League giants Manchester United.

Atletico midfielder Saul was a 70th-minute substitute in Sunday's last-gasp 2-2 draw at home to Villarreal and Simeone was asked about his future amid further speculation.

"He knows my view already," Simeone said. "We talked and I told him what I think and feel. There's not much else.

"Between now and Tuesday we'll see. We are open in the knowledge that anything can happen in football."

Saul had replaced Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, who Atletico revealed would undergo tests due to severe leg pain, having cancelled out Manu Trigueros' 52nd-minute opener.

Suarez is due to fly out to South America for Uruguay's 2022 CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers against Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador over the next fortnight.

"Luis Suarez ended the game with severe pain in the back of his left leg," Atletico said post-game. "He will undergo tests in the coming hours to determine the extent of the discomfort."

Atletico needed a fortunate 95th-minute Aissa Mandi own goal to rescue a point, despite dominating proceedings with Villarreal scoring from their only two shots for the game.

Simeone's Atletico came from behind twice, with Suarez levelling up after Manu Trigueros' 52nd-minute opener, before Arnaut Danjuma restored Villarreal's lead with quarter of an hour to play.

Atletico have not lost any of their 17 La Liga games where Suarez scored (W14, D3).

"That's the joy of not losing a match that was heading in that direction," Simeone said. "It was an injustice, but this game can be like that. It was our best game so far."

For Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League rivals, the most daunting thing is that they have seen this all before.

Lionel Messi has been unveiled as the Ligue 1 giants' latest superstar signing, reuniting him with friend and former team-mate Neymar at the Parc des Princes.

As Barcelona did between 2014 and 2017, though, PSG have more besides the great Argentina and Brazil number 10s.

At Camp Nou, Luis Suarez arrived from Liverpool to quickly link up with his two fellow forwards and fire Barca to European glory.

This time, Kylian Mbappe, already at PSG, is the third man in a frightening front line.

On paper, it is a terrifying prospect, but can the PSG trio work together as Barca's famous 'MSN' did for three years?

Goals and assists galore

Across the three seasons Messi, Suarez and Neymar played together in Catalonia, the three players ranked first (149), third (128) and joint-sixth (89) for goal involvements in Europe's top five leagues.

Only four players registered both 30 goals and 30 assists in that period and three of them played for Barca. Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, was the other.

Barca and Ronaldo's Real Madrid accounted for six of the 10 highest-scoring LaLiga seasons by a team in the competition's history over the space of those three years.

Spanish football has never before or since been as exciting – and Messi, Suarez and Neymar (and Ronaldo) were at the forefront, pushing one another on.

In that time, Messi and Suarez combined for a goal every 198 minutes in the league (36 in total from 144 chances created together). Messi and Neymar between them created 2.1 chances for one another per 90 minutes, resulting in 22 assists, while Suarez and Neymar were also an effective combination with 26 assists.

 

Messi and Neymar had already had a single season together in 2013-14, so it was Suarez's seamless introduction that was most impressive. His 43 assists over those three years tied with Messi and trailed only Kevin De Bruyne (47).

This time it is Messi's turn to join an established duo, with Neymar and Mbappe setting an alarming standard in their limited time together on the pitch.

Injuries to Neymar have limited them to 3,552 minutes – less than half as many as Messi and Suarez over a longer period – but they have combined for 102 chances (2.6 per 90) and 21 assists (one every 169 minutes).

Missing the middle man

The similarities in this context are clear, but Mbappe and Suarez are very different players in a number of ways, including their positioning. Messi and Neymar have changed their roles since they first combined, too, and that is why this front three might require a little work at first.

In 2014-15, their first season together at Barca, the Blaugrana trio's touch maps told the tale of a balanced forward line.

A huge 60.1 per cent of Neymar's touches were on the left flank in the attacking half, with 33.4 per cent concentrated in an area just outside the box.

With the former Santos man staying left, Messi and Suarez were able to link up across the rest of the final third. Messi started from the right but took 22.5 per cent of his touches in the very centre of the attacking half, the same zone in which Suarez enjoyed 17.9 per cent of his touches.

Suarez, with 20.4 per cent of his touches on the left wing in the final third and 23.1 per cent on the right, was capable of drifting out to either side to create space but would rarely occupy these spaces for an extended period. That is a crucial contrast to Mbappe.

Mbappe last season took 57.9 per cent of his touches on the left flank in the attacking half, with only 11.6 per cent on the right. That left-sided share actually dwarfed Neymar's 46.3 per cent in the same position, indicating both their lack of playing time together and a slightly freer role for the world's most expensive player.

 

Indeed, the natural striker is the one of the three PSG forwards who uses the least of his touches through the centre. Messi, like Neymar, has become even more of a central figure since breaking away from the 'MSN' attack, last term taking 25.1 per cent of his touches in a central position just outside the box.

These touches speak to a fluid PSG approach, but they may need Mbappe to stretch the play down the middle and provide a focal point – something Suarez did that suits neither Messi nor Neymar.

Pressing from the front

Barca's front three of 2014-15 were not just brilliant in possession, they were also an effective force without the ball, winning it back to quickly get on the attack once more.

Luis Enrique's men allowed just 7.0 passes per defensive action (PPDA), not letting their opponents rest and forcing 370 high turnovers that contributed to starting their attacks 44.7 metres upfield on average.

PSG are starting from a slightly lower, if still impressive, base in a pressing sense this season. They allowed 8.9 PPDA and forced 337 high turnovers to start attacks 43.7 metres upfield on average.

It is likely Mauricio Pochettino, who employed a pressing game at Tottenham, will want to move up another gear in his first full season at the club, but that might be easier said than done with the players at his disposal.

In 2014-15, Messi led all LaLiga forwards in winning possession 37 times in the final third. Neymar (26) was second and Suarez (16) joint-11th. Across Europe's top five leagues, only Karim Bellarabi (also 37) could match Messi in this regard.

Messi has never since tallied as many final-third recoveries, with that rate of 1.0 per 90 now halved to 0.5 at the age of 34.

Neymar, in limited minutes, reached a new high by winning possession 1.3 times per 90 in 2020-21, yet his tackle rate of 0.9 is considerably down on 2014-15's high of 1.5.

Mbappe twice recovered the ball in the final third in PSG's opening league game of this season against Troyes and last year peaked with 23 such examples across the campaign, but they counted among 59 total possession gains – Messi and Neymar each passed 100 in 2014-15.

So, a revival of that devastating Barca press in Paris seems unlikely at this stage, even if Messi and Neymar, with a new partner, look primed to thrill again.

Whether the silky interplay is as effective without the other side of the game is a query that should be answered by May.

Ronald Koeman proclaimed Lionel Messi to be the "best player in the world" after it was confirmed the Barcelona legend will be leaving the club.

Messi enjoyed an outstanding career at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his time with the LaLiga giants ended abruptly this week due to Barca's dire financial situation.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was expected to sign a new contract, having become a free agent on July 1, before Thursday's announcement shocked the football world.

Koeman, who managed the forward during the 2020-21 campaign, joined a host of football's big names in paying tribute to Messi.

"Still hard to understand that you will not play for [Barcelona] anymore," the head coach wrote on Instagram. "Thanks for everything you have done for our club. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together.

"I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win. It makes you the best player in the world. For now, I wish you and your family the best!"

With Messi expected to move to Paris Saint-Germain, Koeman must prepare for life without the four-time Champions League winner.

Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann will have incredibly large shoes to fill in the 2021-22 campaign, while Barca players past and present used social media to praise their former team-mate.

Gerard Pique, who won the treble with Messi in his first season back at the Catalan club, posted on Instagram that "nothing will ever be the same again" following the end of an era.

"Now you are leaving, but I know that one day you will come back," the centre-back continued. "There are pending things to do. Have fun, enjoy wherever you go and keep winning as only you know how to do. Here we will miss you. I love you Leo."

Luis Suarez, formerly part of the formidable trio with Messi and Neymar, pipped Barca to the title with Atletico Madrid last term but he too revealed his admiration for the "best player ever".

"I will always be grateful for how you received me since I arrived because of what a great human being you are," Suarez wrote.

"Proud to have shared thousands of wonderful moments at [Barcelona] and to be lucky to have played with you. I sincerely hope that what happens in the future is the best for you and your family. I love you so much."

Despite only playing for two campaigns with Messi, Barca youngster Ansu Fati used his Instagram account to say farewell to his captain.

"All the boys who come to the Masia dream of being able to play with you, I feel lucky to have fulfilled it," Fati posted. "I wanted to thank you these two years for your gestures of affection towards me and for everything I learned.

"[Messi] my family and I will always be eternally grateful, I wish you and yours all the best."

Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America had the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Italy and Argentina lifted the respective trophies at the weekend, with the Azzurri beating England in a penalty shoot-out and La Albiceleste seeing off bitter rivals Brazil at the Maracana to win the Copa for the first time since 1993.

Stats Perform has looked at 13 of the leading candidates to feature at either tournament to determine how their chances look heading into the new season.

Jorginho

Before Euro 2020, N'Golo Kante was the Chelsea midfielder seen to be within the best shot of scooping individual honours at the end of 2021, but a month on it's Jorginho who is the European champion at club and international level.

While he has perhaps been underappreciated or misunderstood at times with Chelsea, perhaps supporters will see him in a new light after playing a vital role in Italy's success as their deep-lying playmaker.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Lewandowski's Ballon d'Or hopes arguably aren't any worse now than before the Euros as no one will have expected Paulo Sousa's men to make much of an impact. He got three goals in as many games and was only out-scored by six players, which is a solid achievement.

 

Marco Verratti

Had he not been injured for the first two games of Euro 2020, there's every possibility it would have been Verratti being crowned as player of the tournament, with the Paris Saint-Germain star arguably the player who embodies the qualities of Roberto Mancini's transformed Italy side more than any other.

Not only did he create more chances than anyone else at Euro 2020 (14), but averaged more touches (114.5) than anyone, played the fourth-most passes (87.1) and ranked third for tackles (four) per 90 minutes among all players to have featured for at least 125 minutes. His all-action excellence set the tone for the Azzurri's vibrant and, ultimately, successful football.

 

N'Golo Kante

Kante inspired Chelsea to Champions League glory, named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final versus Real Madrid and the final against Manchester City.

But France's last-16 elimination by Switzerland will have done little to boost his chances, with Paul Pogba rather than Kante the standout figure for Les Bleus. While a nomination is almost a certainty, taking the gong home now looks beyond the all-action midfielder.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

His exceptional quality was further underlined by the fact only Verratti created more chances than him over the course of the tournament, an impressive feat given he started the tournament late due to injury and then had to play through another fitness issue in Belgium's final match, but that's unlikely to be enough to earn him the award.

Gianluigi Donnarumma

Generally, the player considered to be the best at a major international competition has a pretty good chance of winning further accolades, so in that case Donnarumma may have a reasonable opportunity after UEFA crowned him Euro 2020's Player of the Tournament.

Statistically there were numerous goalkeepers who were more important than him to their respective teams given he technically didn't prevent any goals according to Opta's xGOT metric – Tomas Vaclik's prevented a tournament-high 2.5. Nevertheless, Donnarumma wasn't guilty of any drops or errors that led to shots, and made crucial saves across two penalty shoot-outs, including a couple in the final.

 

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

A slow start to Euro 2020 followed, although Kane scored four times in the knockout phase as he played a key role in England's journey to the final. But when it mattered most he failed to have a single touch in the Italy penalty area. A talismanic performance in the showpiece may have put him firmly in the running, but it's difficult to see him being a major contender now.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

He certainly cannot be accused of failing to deliver for Belgium given he scored four times, but they came up short against Italy in the quarter-finals, with a partially injured De Bruyne unable to truly weave his magic. Lukaku's influence upon Inter shouldn't be overlooked, but the achievements of others on the international stage may overshadow his own.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it did put him right in the mix and he followed that up with a starring role in Argentina's Copa triumph, the first senior international trophy of his career. Given his lack of success with La Albiceleste was arguably the final barrier to clear in his career, a Ballon d'Or will surely follow later this year as he led Lionel Scaloni's men with four goals (joint-most) and five assists (the most).

 

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day, but it probably won't be in 2021. He was one of the biggest disappointments at Euro 2020, failing to score once despite his chances having an accumulative xG value of 2.02 – that under-performance was second-worst to Gerard Moreno (3.32).

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he only had an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or ahead of the Copa America, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

While his performances with Brazil would see him included in most people's team of the tournament, he wasn't dependable in front of goal, his one non-penalty strike coming from 5.3 xG, an under-performance unmatched by anyone in the tournament. He'll have to wait a bit longer for the prize he supposedly craves above all others.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

He definitely didn't do his chances any harm as he won the Golden Boot for most goals (five) – beating Patrik Schick by virtue of having more assists – after becoming the Euros' all-time leading scorer (11) and levelling Ali Daei's world-record haul of 109 international goals, but Portugal's failure to get beyond the last 16 won't help.

 

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

But he could only muster one goal at the Copa America as he and Uruguay had a minimal impact, meaning it'll take something special for Suarez to be a major candidate at the end of the year.

Paraguay have not defeated Uruguay at the Copa America since 1947, but La Albirroja have momentum entering Monday's final group-stage game in Rio. 

While Uruguay have laboured to find their form in the tournament, Paraguay have taken six points from the first three Group A matches. 

They defeated Chile 2-0 on Thursday to confirm their place in the quarter-finals, three days after Uruguay needed an own goal by Arturo Vidal to salvage a 1-1 draw with La Roja. 

Coupled with a tournament-opening defeat of Bolivia, Paraguay will be feeling confident about their chances to earn a long-awaited victory.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said he expects the game to unfold along similar lines as the sides' scoreless draw in World Cup qualifying in Montevideo earlier this month. 

"Uruguay is tough, difficult, we faced each other recently in the qualifying rounds, it was very physical and tactical and surely the same awaits us," he said. "We will go out to win as we always do." 

La Celeste broke a five-game winless streak with a 2-0 defeat of Bolivia in their previous match, with Edinson Cavani breaking through for his first international goal since Uruguay's most recent victory against Colombia in November. 

With qualification for the knockout phase ensured, Uruguay will hope to gain their footing against a side they have dominated for decades. 

Uruguay are unbeaten in 15 Copa America games (W9 D6) against Paraguay dating to that long-forgotten La Albirroja triumph 74 years ago. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Luis Suarez

Suarez is responsible for five of Uruguay's 12 shots on target in the tournament, a sign that he may be close to breaking his five-game international scoring drought. 

Beyond that stretch, the Atletico striker has not scored in the run of play for his country since a November 2019 friendly draw with Argentina. His four goals in World Cup qualifying last fall each came from the spot. 

Paraguay –​ Miguel Almiron

The Newcastle man had a hand in both goals against Chile, assisting on Braian Samudio's 33rd-minute opener and scoring from the spot in the second half. 

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- After their last win against Bolivia, Uruguay broke a run of three winless games in Copa America (D2 L1). They also scored two goals after scoring just once in each of the previous four (W1 D2 L1).
- After 11 winless games in Copa America (D6 L5), Paraguay won two of their last three games losing just against Argentina (1-0).
- Paraguay are the team with the higher shooting average in the current Copa America (17). The Albirroja also have the highest tally in a single game in the competition: 34 shots against Bolivia. 

Uruguay face Bolivia in the Copa America on Thursday and need Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez to start producing in attack.

After losing their opening match to Argentina, Oscar Tabarez's men drew 1-1 with Chile on matchday two to breathe a bit of life into their campaign.

The goal was their first since November 2020, yet it came via Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, who turned into his own net under pressure from Suarez.

Uruguay's problems in attack are clear: they have the lowest shooting accuracy at the Copa America (20 per cent), and the worst shot conversion rate (five per cent).

That is in spite of the fact they boast a strike partnership in Suarez and Cavani who have plundered 114 international goals between them. They have only managed a combined seven shots at these finals, six of which came against Chile.

Uruguay do, at least, have a strong recent record against Bolivia, who have lost to Paraguay and Chile at this tournament and only won one of their past 12 meetings with La Celeste – a qualifier for the 2014 World Cup.

Indeed, Bolivia are on a 10-game winless run in Copa America matches played in Brazil and have not beaten Uruguay at a neutral venue since 1949.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Bolivia – Roberto Fernandez

Fernandez belied his inexperience with a strong performance against Chile, making six clearances and four interceptions at left-back, with only two team-mates having more than his 67 touches of the ball.

He could find himself in with a tough battle against Federico Valverde down the Uruguay right.

Uruguay – Facundo Torres

Torres attempted three shots and created two chances against Chile, as many as Cavani managed, despite the 21-year-old only coming on for the final 30 minutes.

This could be a good opportunity for Tabarez to hand the Penarol forward a chance to impress from the start.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Uruguay have lost only one of their past 12 games against Bolivia in all competitions (W8 D3), 1-0 in La Paz in World Cup 2014 qualifying. 
- Uruguay have won 11 of their 13 games against Bolivia at neutral venues (D1 L1). The only win for Bolivia was in 1949, 3-2 in Rio de Janeiro in the Copa America.
- Bolivia have lost their past five games and have failed to win in their previous 10 Copa America matches played in Brazil (D2 L8). They have won only four games in the competition in this country, all of them at the 1949 edition.
- Bolivia have the lowest possession average (31.2 per cent) but the highest forward passes percentage (39.4 per cent of their 597 total passes) at the tournament.
- Uruguay have the lowest shooting accuracy at the Copa America 2021: only the 20 per cent (4/20) of their shots have been on target. They have the lowest shot conversion rate, too (five per cent).

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